Politics of elections, politics of change
When compared to the last general elections, which took place in 2007, the June elections appear calm and normal. There is no controversy surrounding the future of the regime, secularism and the secular lifestyle being threatened by the ruling party or over Turkey becoming Islamized. Now the debates evolve around personal matters and the promises of political parties.
If politics is persuading people on how to meet their needs and fulfill their demands, the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) has an advantage since it has been in power for last nine years and has done a great deal with respect to this. Thus, in its election campaign the AK Party underlines as its “successes” the management of the economy and foreign policy. Under the AK Party government advancements have also taken place in the fields of health care, education and transportation as well as social security and solidarity.
Moreover, Primer Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan appeals to the public and manages political debate through mega projects like the ones in İstanbul. He also refers to the new constitution as the “greatest project of the AK Party.” This, however, does not stop some criticism that the AK Party has abandoned its efforts to reform the political realm, concentrating only on self- developmental efforts. An understanding of politics without a democratic perspective has been the weakness of central-right politics since the 1950s. Whether or not the AK Party falls into this trap will be clear after the elections.
The novelty of this election is the position of the Republican People’s Party (CHP). It is good for the country that the CHP has stopped basing its politics against the ruling AK Party on the grounds of “regime security” and “secularism.” These themes have not only proved “ineffective” to stop the rise of the AK Party, but also poisoned the will of people with different lifestyles to live together.
Now the new leadership of the CHP has devised a new language of opposition. It accuses the AK Party of being a pro-status quo party and presents itself as the party of change. It constantly tries to distance itself from the state and claims to represent “people power.” In its election manifesto there is no reference to Kemalism and its six principles. Where it mentions the “six arrows” of the CHP it refers to secularism, republicanism and for a surprise, democracy. The party defines itself as advocates of freedoms, solidarity, equality and pluralism.
All these indicate a change of mind, or at least strategy, on the party of the CHP. Whether this is sustainable or not depends, I think, on the election results. If the party manages to get a vote of around 30 percent, the new leadership may be able to hold on to its position and continue with its ideological transformation of the CHP, which is the sine qua non for the normalization of Turkish politics.
The way in which the AK Party responds to the “new CHP” shows that it is not really prepared to deal with such new political language. Thus, it resorts to highlight the policies of the old CHP, like the one that banned the publication of a Kurdish literary classic, “Men u Zin.” Erdoğan also rightly capitalizes on the exaggerated promises of CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, which damages the credibility of the latter.
The Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) is expected to increase its seats in Parliament. With “civil disobedience” in the region it is mobilizing Kurds to back the independent candidates it supports. The central strategy of the BDP is to stop, and if possible, roll back, the success of the AK Party in the Kurdish populated cities. This was done to some extent in the 2009 local elections. Now, by pushing the AK Party out of the region, the BDP tries to live up to its claim that it is the sole representative of the Kurdish people. Even if the AK Party continues to lose some votes in the region this does not mean that all Kurds will abandon the AK Party. I think Kurds will continue to be represented by both the AK Party and the BDP, which is in fact a good thing to address the Kurdish question.
And the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP)… I think the fate of the elections will be determined by this party. If it falls short of the national threshold of 10 percent the parliamentary composition will be advantageous for the AK Party. Yes, in such a case the representative character of Parliament will be questioned. But my main concern is that if the MHP is left in the street unable to be represented in Parliament we may not be able to address two fundamental questions that will come up after the elections: the new constitution and the Kurdish issue. Radical nationalism of the MHP under a new leadership that is more inclined to put pressure through the streets may block “great solutions” and threaten the stability of Turkey.